It started with a sit-in. Last summer, Sean Lennon, whose band The Ghost of the Saber Tooth Tiger were on the road opening for Primus and Dinosaur Jr., joined Les Claypool and company for a run through their classic “Southbound Pachyderm.” The collaboration clicked and, with Primus about to take some time off the road, Claypool reached out to Lennon about a new, formal project. Claypool admits that his first thought was to reunite Oysterhead, his trio with Trey Anastasio and Stewart Copeland, but his partnership with Lennon developed into a tried-and-true new band. Both multi-instrumentalists and songwriters who hover on the fringes of psychedelic-rock and alt-pop, the duo recorded an entire album of new material, Monolith of Phobos, themselves and then spent the summer on the road supporting the album as The Claypool Lennon Delirium. Lennon and Claypool rounded out their Delirium with an all-star backing band consisting of Beastie Boys keyboardist Mark “Money Mark” Ramos Nishita and drummer Paulo Baldi of Claypool’s Fungi Band.
The new friends regrouped this past weekend for an appearance at Live Oak, FL’s Suwannee Festival and will close out the year at Oakland, CA.’s Fox Theater on a New Year’s Eve bill with Primus. Before their tour earlier this year, Relix and Jambands.com spoke with Claypool and Lennon about their new project and how they created an album that nods to their past projects, while still sounding fresh and unique.
Let’s start by getting a little background on how this project came together, how did you and Sean first meet and decide it’s a good time to start yet another band?
Les Claypool: Well, we were heading out on tour in the old Primus machine, doing a tour with Dinosaur Jr. We were looking for a first of three and my manager told me to check out Sean Lennon’s band, and I thought they were amazing. One of their videos hit a chord with me. So they came out on the road with us, I became a fan and we struck up a friendship right away. We started having little impromptu jams back stage. One night he sat in on “Southbound Pachyderm” and it was amazing. It was one of the best sit-ins we’ve had. We just got to bullshit and I said, “Hey, come on out to California. Let’s hang out in the studio and see if we come up with something.” He was out here for six weeks and we had 10 kids.
Sean Lennon: Well, I’ve been touring with my band The Ghost of the Saber Tooth Tiger for a couple of years on this record and we were pretty much done. We were like, “Man, we got to go make another record we’ve been on tour forever.” But then we were told we might get to play with Primus and we were all just like, “Okay. Let’s get back.” We were all Primus fans. We got on the road, and it was a really special tour. There was no drama or bad vibes or weirdness or stupidity. It was just a really cool team. Les and everybody are just super cool. We just had a lot of fun. I wound up jamming a little bit with Les backstage, and then he invited me to sit in on a song called “Southbound Pachyderm,” which was my favorite song pretty much. We had a lot of fun jamming, so I guess he just had enough and I had a little time. He was like, “Do you want to try to record some stuff in the studio,” and I was like, “Are you kidding? Of course.” I think we’re both rather surprised that 2 weeks later we had like 10 songs tracked. We didn’t necessarily know what was going to happen in the studio. It went really fast and it went really well. Then I went back home for a little while and when I returned we finished the album.
Sean, you have been a big fan of Primus’ music for years. What was your introduction to their world?
SL: I remember when I was just moving back to New York from a boarding school when I was like 15, and there was no Primus yet on MTV. They were super underground. I was dating this girl in Italy, so I had been taking a train to this town which is really small. It’s this little, sort of rural town. And we were walking on the street at night. It was the kind of town where everything is closed at 9 pm, but there was this little club/bar venue on the corner. It was just jumping up and down, vibrating. It was some really loud music. That’s such a cartoon— little shack dancing on the corner. And we were just like, “Wow. You got to go in there.” There wasn’t anything happening in the town.
So we walked into this tiny space, and we were just like— It’s rocking! There’s a crazy band playing. I remember seeing who I’d later know to be Les Claypool. This guy had multicolor dreads with shaved hair on one side. He was doing this weird crab walk. And singing “Jerry was The Race Car Driver.” I remembered that because the lyric was just so snarky and funny and odd— quirky as well. I just walked in with my friend and there were like bodies flying from the balconies. People were hurling themselves from the balconies in the name of— I guess moshing. I hadn’t even heard of moshing yet. I hadn’t heard Nirvana. I hadn’t heard anything that was later to be associated with that kind of behavior. That was the first time I had ever saw people violently interacting within a group circle of men, kind of like athletically, chest pounding. And so I went over to the merch table, and all of their albums were bizarre, it was so up my ally, just kind of dark and humorous and playful and childlike but also kind of grotesque. It was just super hip.
I went back to New York thinking that I had discovered something. But then within a very short amount of time, everybody was checking out the “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver” video. I don’t know. That’s how I remember it. I remember being like, “Oh man. I found something on my own.” I hadn’t really. But that was how I was introduced to them. It was literally just a coincidence, walking into some random rural Italian punk rock concert in the middle of nowhere. It was pretty cool. It was one of the coolest accidental shows I’ve ever seen. But yeah that music influenced me. It was sort of a gateway to more progressive music and more musiciany music and more player-centric music. Virtuoso players like Tony Levin and King Crimson and stuff. I think I was opened up to a world of shredders you know? Before that I was more into classic rock.
I can’t really think of that many people who came after who felt that particular way either. No one was as singularly quirky and unique as Les and his band while also not having a shred of overplaying fugue. Everything he did was cool. Everything he did was actually kind of punk. Whereas he never ever seemed to be shredding for the sake of shredding, he just had that incredible technique and it just was apparent in everything. It wasn’t like “And now I’m going to take this 40 minute solo where the drummer is going to leave the stage.” He’s not like that. He’s just playing songs with a very strong aesthetic. I can’t really think of anybody else who did it in that way. A lot of the cool musically accomplished people I feel like are more within, I don’t know, like solo for the sake of soloing.
Les, how familiar were you with Sean’s music and GOASTT’s music before that run?
LC: I was not familiar with GOASTT at all. I heard from his earlier releases back in the day; he did a record on Grand Royal. I always thought he had that eclectic nature that I think is reflective of his mother’s influence. I always found that very interesting.